Tuesday, July 22, 2014

What We’re Reading: Paranormal Police Procedural

In London Falling, Detective Inspector James Quill, Undercover Detectives Tony Costain and Kevin Sefton, and Crime Analyst Lisa Ross acquired The Sight, allowing them to see the supernatural occult activities that permeate London but can be seen/felt by only a select few. The Sight allowed them to solve the mysterious rise to power of drug lord Rob Toshack and a related series of serial killings. 

As The Severed Streets opens, Quill and his team are still attempting to adjust to their new abilities. They’re also trying to learn as much as possible about this London, the related sub-culture, and how both function. They are anxious to be involved in another case that will allow them to use their abilities and knowledge. As is commonly said, "Be careful what you wish for…"

Michael Spatley, MP (Member of Parliament), chief secretary to the Treasury, has been brutally murdered in his car during one of the many protests occurring almost nightly in the streets of London. The driver, whose description of what happened sounds impossible, is the primary suspect. The car’s doors were locked, and, for most, the security camera footage gathered during the investigation shows no one entering or leaving. But when Quill and his team review the footage, they see something entering and exiting the car at the time of the murder.  

Then, Sir Geoffrey Staunce, KCBE (Knight Commander of the British Empire), commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, is found murdered in a similar manner, in his home with “The Jews are the men who will not be blamed for anything” written in blood on a wall. It is a phrase associated with the murders of Jack the Ripper from more than a century ago.  

Is it possible that the evil behind the original murders attributed to Jack the Ripper is back? And this time s/he/it is killing rich, white men? 

In The Severed Streets, Paul Cornell follows DI Quill and his team as they explore, and struggle to adapt to, the strange London only a few know exist. While London Falling was about their first tentative steps into this new world, The Severed Streets shows the team adapting, developing and becoming more confident in their knowledge and skills. It also follows the personal dynamics as they learn how to work better as a team in spite of the personal demons revealed by The Sight that each of them must face. 

The serial killings in The Severed Streets seem both random and pointless, like the Ripper murders, and yet they also seem to be an indictment of Western culture. Indeed, Cornell uses the rich history of London to tremendous effect, reflecting on the struggles between tradition and progress, development and preservation, and the seemingly endless struggle between government and corporate interests. Particularly effective is an investigation taken on by part of the team at the former BBC TV Centre. Now a mostly unused building that houses small production companies, various businesses and apartments, the site of the former cultural juggernaught nearly overwhelms the augmented senses of the team members with resonances of its earlier significance, and Cornell expertly describes the differences in time and perspective between its heyday and the present. 

The Severed Streets is chilling, thrilling, and thought-provoking. It’s a compelling urban fantasy page-turner that, like London Falling, may be a bit too graphic/intense for some readers. But if you liked London Falling, grab The Severed Streets as quickly as you can!

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